Meditation for Beginners

Do you ever meditate? We recently issued a challenge for anyone interested: Try to meditate for 10 minutes a day. This month, I gave it a shot and was surprised by what happened…

Research says that meditation is good for your brain, and my twin sister swears by it. But it has always intimidated me. Like many people, my mind is often whirring/spinning/racing, especially after a long day, so how could I even begin to calm it down?

Step 1: Trying on my own
I headed to my bedroom. I wanted a calm space — no kids, no husband — to relax and clear my brain. Lying down on the fluffy duvet, I resisted reaching for a magazine and instead tried to lie still and not think about anything. My breath slowed; my eyes closed. Yet every minute or two, I would find myself lost in thought: a work dilemma, a funny 30 Rock quote, whether we should have fish tacos for dinner (yes, obviously).

“Your mind is like a kindergarten class, and meditating is like trying to get your thoughts to take a nap,” said our friend Rayhané. “If one wakes up, tell them gently to go back to sleep. If your mind thinks, ‘But you have a to-do list!’ just say shhhh.”

I tried my best to quiet my inner five-year-olds. But they kept running around the room, and my meditation session felt more frustrating than relaxing.

Step 2: Finding a mantra

Retired math teacher Keith, who lives in Boston, has been meditating every single day since he was 21, for a grand total of 47 years. (That’s 17,155 times.) His advice? “Find a mantra.”

Every afternoon, Keith will close his eyes and mentally repeat a word for 20 minutes. The funny thing is, his family and friends can be watching TV, chatting and walking around in the same room — he can tune it all out. When he comes out of the meditation, he feels like it’s a brand new day. “Meditating has completely changed my life,” he says. “It has made me a calmer person.”

Inspired, I settled into a soft chair in our living room. But I then spent five minutes trying to find a good word I liked. Then started writing this post in my head… including these very words in this very sentence. Clearly, I needed more guidance.

Step 3: Downloading an app

My sister likes the app Headspace, and I’ve also heard good things about Calm. I downloaded the former and liked the idea of having a teacher. “Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill,” said the Headspace website. “It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.” Every morning for a week, I listened to the app, in which British co-founder Andy Puddicombe, who trained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, leads a 10-minute session with breathing exercises.

“How much of your life do you spend in the present moment?” Puddicombe asked. That’s such a hard question to answer, don’t you think? “Are you sweeping the floor whilst thinking about something else that happened in the past or looking to the future, hoping something will happen in the future? Or are you simply present with the sound and the sensation of the broom?”

I want to hear the sound of the broom!

Inspired, I dove right into the app. And it felt so much easier than doing it on my own. You don’t actually need to rid your brain of thoughts while meditating, Puddicombe points out. Picture sitting next to a highway with cars passing by. You can sit there and notice the cars without focusing on any of them, or you can follow a car down the road. Bottom line: With meditation, the goal is to just observe your thoughts coming and going, without judgement.

Step 4: Mindfulness

After my week with Headspace, I began noticing moments of mindfulness in regular life. One evening, I took Toby and Anton to the playground. After a while, as they played happily on their own, I found myself feeling restless. So, channeling Puddicombe, I decided to take a moment to soak up the scene. I noticed a mural on a brick wall, trees swaying in the breeze, and a little boy wobbling on a balance bike. The night suddenly felt really special.

Two mornings later, I was meeting a friend for breakfast in Manhattan, and she was running late. Normally, I’d instinctually check my phone (one-second pause! = check my phone!), but instead I paused. The cool air felt good on my face; a father and son walked by; an arched doorway was newly painted black. I smelled the buttery toast two women were eating nearby and watched a flock of birds zigzag across a row of townhouses. When my friend arrived, my mind felt calm and clear.

The New York Times actually has a guide about how to be mindful in everyday situations — when you’re sick, in the shower, at the grocery store. And I loved this public transportation meditation exercise that feels so empathetic!

In the end, I’d like to keep practicing meditation, although it still seems pretty intimidating. But I’m already in love with the on-the-go anywhere-and-everywhere mindfulness that feels so good, simple and pure.

What about you? Do you meditate? What do you love about it? Any tips?

P.S. Happiness vs wholeness, and a trick for life.
P.P.S. Meditating at the Museum of Modern Art looks very cool!

(Darn good link via Kottke.)